West Bengal: Anganwadi Workers Protest, Demands Include Better Wages and Work Environment
Anganwadi workers rally at Saltlake
Kolkata: Thousands of ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) workers recently organised a rally at Saltlake near Kolkata, demanding better wages and work conditions, among other demands. Led by Paschimbanga Rajya ICDS Karmi Samiti, the workers forwarded a seven-point demand charter to the Director, state women and child care department. The deputation team consisted of ICDS movement leaders like Indrani Mukherjee, Sheela Mondal, Sayonara Begum and Sulekha Bol.
The rally at Saltlate was presided over by Manisha Chakraborty. CPIM state secretary MD Salim, CITU state secretary Anadi Sahu, Paschimbanga Rajya ICDS Karmi Samiti general secretary Ratna Dutta spoke at the gathering.
Rekha Saha, 48, has worked as an Anganwadi worker for 10 years. While talking to NewsClick, she detailed her struggles, including meagre pay and unsatisfactory work conditions.
"We require cell phones for our work. Phone recharges have been eating into our wages. Neither do we get gratuity, nor are we permanent workers," she said.
There are approximately 10 lakh Anganwadi workers in India, with West Bengal having 2,25,000 workers. These workers have no work security. Their incredible work has received praise from various foreign award committees. Still, the Central government continues to be silent on Anganwadi workers' issues, such as better wages, retirement benefits like gratuity, etc.
"We face hostility from the ruling party (Trinamool Congress) in the state for daring to unionise," Saha said, adding, "In many cases, Anganwadi workers have to take money from local mahajans to run their centres."
Saha further said that the money from local money lenders is used to feed mothers and children with essential things such as rice, vegetables, etc.; the state government isn't paying for these things.
"To purchase an egg, the government gives us Rs 5, but an egg costs Rs 6 in the local market. Similarly, for fuel charges, we get paid Rs 18 at a slab of up to 1-30 women, Rs 19 for 31-50 women, Rs 21 for 51-70 women and Rs 23 for 70 and above. The kerosene costs Rs 84/litre in the market, and at times when it's not available locally, we source it from the black market at Rs 100/litre. Where do we get the money to make these purchases? Many among us have put our jewellery at mortgage to save our jobs," Saha said.
In West Bengal, an Anganwadi worker gets Rs 8250/month, while a helper makes Rs 6300/month.
Ratna Dutta, general secretary, Paschimbanga Rajya ICDS Karmi Samiti, an organisation with a membership of over 70,000, told NewsClick that they demand the Central government adhere to the 46th labour convention, give ICDS workers the statute of permanent workers and increase their pay to Rs 21,000, which is the minimum wage.
"We also demand gratuity for ICDS workers of the state and the fact that any ICDS worker who has to look after another ICDS Centre are paid at the Rs 50/month whereby running an ICDS Centre is equivalent to spending from their pockets," Dutta further said.
In his speech at the rally, Salim said, "Throughout the country, resource allocation in welfare works is reducing rapidly. It has been shrunk so that they can abolish it eventually. A unified movement is the need of the hour to thwart such attacks.
Salim further said that the government is neither siding with the farmers (who are denied minimum support price for their crops) nor with the rural development workers and ICDS workers. He lamented that the government is weakening the next generation by neglecting pregnant mothers and child nutrition.
"The central government is not adhering to the supreme court judgements in the case of ICDS workers, ASHA, and Mid-day meal projects. Both the state and Centre are guilty on this occasion. In Gujarat, the ICDS workers led an inspiring fight, leading to their demands being met by the government," Salim further said.
Speaking at the rally, Sahoo said the government is only working for the crony capitalists.
"In West Bengal, the state government employees are not getting their dues, and welfare budgets are shrinking in MGNREGA, education, health and social welfare projects," Sahoo said.
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